It may have been after midnight when the Chennai-Delhi flight came to a stop at the tarmac but there was no scramble to get bags from the overhead bin or rush towards the exit because all eyes were focused on one couple — the parents of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.
Air Marshal (retd) S Varthaman and Dr Shobha Varthaman were given a standing ovation as passengers made way for them in the early hours of Friday, ensuring that the couple gets off first.
It’s the most common of sights. As aeroplanes skid to a stop as they land, passengers invariably ignore the still glowing ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign and make a beeline for the exit, each one determined to be the first one out of the aircraft, as if there’s a prize waiting for them at the end.
Last evening then saw the most uncommon of sights. As a flight from Chennai landed in New Delhi airport, every passenger onboard actually waited instead of making a mad dash to deplane. There was no pushing, shoving, or stubbed toes. The reason? The parents of an Indian hero were onboard.
In photos and videos shared by passengers on social media platforms, the couple, who came to Delhi on their way to Amritsar to bring their son home, can can be seen acknowledging the clapping, cheers and thank yous with nods of their heads. The plane landed at the Delhi airport about an hour after midnight.
The couple left for Amritsar soon after landing in Delhi. They are all set to receive their son most likely at the Wagah border.
The IAF pilot was taken into custody by Pakistan on Wednesday after he landed on the other side of the Line of Control as his aircraft crashed during an aerial dogfight between India and Pakistan.
Government sources said a team of Indian Air Force officials will receive Wing Commander Abhinandan at the Wagah border on Friday evening. The parents of the Wing Commander had arrived in Delhi on Thursday night and will go to Amritsar to welcome him. Abhinandan is the son of Air Marshal (Retd) Varthaman.
— Sir Jadeja fan (@SirJadeja) March 1, 2019
Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured by Pakistan Army after his fighter jet crashed in an air duel with a Pakistani F-16. He shot down the plane before his own went down, forcing him to eject. He fell into Pakistani territory.
On Thursday Khan announced that he would be released, signalling a de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan.
Abhinandan’s family has served the Indian Air Force for generations, since the second World War.
Air Marshal S Varthaman, a recipient of several honours, including a Param Vishisht Seva Medal, said in a message, “Abhi is alive, not injured, sound in mind, just look at the way he talked so bravely… a true soldier… we are so proud of him.”